House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016

Bills

Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016; Consideration in Detail

8:40 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

I understand some of the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker, the member for Lyne, and I do understand that there are challenges for owner-drivers. That is why Labor wants to have a collegiate approach or a consensual approach, if you like, to dealing with this issue. We utterly oppose the notion that, if you do not like the decision of a statutory body, you decide to abolish it. I think that is just a disproportionate and contemptuous response. What would have better served the constituency, those who work hard in the road transport industry, would have been the government convening a meeting of affected parties to work through some of these issues.

We are now debating the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016, the bill in relation to the order that was made by the tribunal in December. At that time the parties, employers and indeed the Transport Workers Union made clear that they were willing to see the delay of the order in order to consider its implementation and some of the legitimate concerns raised by certain stakeholders that would be affected by that order. That would have been the proper course. In hindsight, I think it is fair to say that the tribunal would have been better to consider that application or those submissions by the employer and union representatives in order to reconcile outstanding differences wherever possible. Who would not want to seek to refine or resolve matters without having to deal with them in an arbitral way? We think it is clear that if that approach had been taken we would not be here now. The parties would have had further discussions, the tribunal would have involved itself in those outstanding matters and—who knows?—we might well seen a reconciliation of views to the point where we could have had a greater level of consensus.

It will be a Pyrrhic victory if the bills were to succeed in the parliament, because they do not do anything to deal with some of the serious challenges confronting the industry. It is not about whether Labor succeeds in opposing the tribunal, or the coalition succeeds in abolishing the tribunal; it is about whether we can improve road safety without causing any unnecessary difficulty for owner-drivers. That may be a very difficult ideal, but I think it is one worth pursuing. I think a government that was serious about dealing with these issues and had respect for all parties would at least be trying that approach. I do not think it is right that this is a binary debate. This is not about one side being all wrong and the other side being all right.

Even in my conversations with the representatives of the constituent parts of the industry, all of them have at least said to me that there are problems in the industry. There are problems in relation to being paid.

Some of the smaller and medium-size companies, not big companies, have difficulty paying their drivers, whether they are employee or owner-drivers with their own rig, because they have not been paid by their principal contractor or the large client, quite often a retail or mining client. Very large enterprises do not always pay on time. We know that large companies do not always pay their taxes and they play games with our tax laws. We also know that they do not pay fleet owners and they do not pay owner-drivers on time and that puts enormous pressure on drivers. That issue is not one that is just held by the union; it is held by many of the employer bodies that represent these enterprises.

The danger of this debate as far as I see it, and the reason why we need to get to the bottom of what the government wants to do beyond the delay of this order, if indeed that abolition of the tribunal were not to happen, is because we need to work out how we fix the industry. (Extension of time granted) Given that we are debating now this order and given that this bill goes to only delaying the order then we really need to understand—

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